The House Finance Committee breathed new life into spending bills Thursday by waiving the 48-hour notice typically required for a hearing, including House Bill 1932, which would appropriate funds to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

Rep. Sylvia Luke, who chairs the committee, made the motion on the House floor at about 1 p.m., setting the hearing for 2 p.m. She said it was necessary to waive the rule “just to keep these bills alive.” Many had either stalled in committees or lacked a companion measure in the Senate.

Jobie Masagatani, head of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, said Thursday she is "elated" that the House kept the DHHL funding bill alive.
Jobie Masagatani, head of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, said Thursday she was “elated” that the House kept the DHHL funding bill alive. Courtesy: Governor's Office

The approval of HB 1932 followed a court announcement Wednesday in the Nelson v. Hawaiian Homes Commission case that said the state has failed to make “sufficient sums” available to DHHL for its administrative and operating budget.

The state had budgeted roughly $9.6 million for fiscal 2016, which ends June 30. But the Legislature may need to find as much as $18 million this year to fulfill its obligation, as the judge initially had determined that DHHL needs at least $28 million for its administrative and operating budget this fiscal year.

Luke said the legislation was unusual in that it would appropriate money from next year’s budget as a reimbursement for the current year’s expenses. The normal route, she said, is to seek an emergency appropriations bill for the current fiscal year.

Jobie Masagatani, head of DHHL, told the committee that it had initially pursued that option with the governor, asking for roughly $18 million — the difference between what the Legislature appropriated for fiscal 2016 and the amount needed for its administrative and operating budget.

Rep. Gene Ward asked DHHL attorney Mel Miyagi what would happen if the Legislature decided to not appropriate the money, but Miyagi said he didn’t want to speak “out of school” until the session is over.

The committee passed the bill, which keeps the measure alive this session. But the legislation leaves blank how much money may ultimately be appropriated.

The committee amended the bill to remove the preamble, which references the Nelson case. Luke said the Legislature should just appropriate the money “instead of getting lawyers involved in what the right language is.”

The bill is expected to clear the full House next week and then cross over to the Senate for its consideration.

“I’m elated that the bill is still alive, that there’s still a vehicle alive that allows for us to address the funding for the current fiscal year and provides the opportunity to stay in line with the court’s order,” Masagatani said after the hearing.

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